Distinguished Rebels: Celebrating the legacy of Clara Schumann on her 200th birthday

Clara Schumann (1819-1896) plays the piano in this engraving from a daguerreotype.Hulton Archive/Getty Images

September 09, 2019

Sept. 13 marks the 200th anniversary of composer, pianist and musical muse Clara Schumann. Compared with her husband, Robert Schumann, Clara hasn't received the same amount of recognition. Learn more about why she helped shape the face of classical music, and how contemporary artists mirror certain aspects of her life.

Child prodigy

Martha Argerich
Martha Argerich
Adriano Heitmann/Immagina

Clara Schumann made her professional debut as a pianist at 9, setting off on a tour across Europe just four years later. Contemporary pianist Martha Argerich shares Schumann's standing as a child prodigy, making her debut at age 8 before starting a lifelong performance career.

LISTEN — Distinguished Rebels: Child Prodigy


Yolanda Kondonassis
Yolanda Kondonassis
Laura Watilo Blake

Along with performing, Clara was an esteemed teacher and composer. She also was a muse to her husband, Robert, premiering and proofing many of his works. Contemporary harpist Yolanda Kondonassis also shows her entrepreneurial spirit through teaching, composing, and starting a nonprofit called Earth at Heart.

LISTEN — Distinguished Rebels: Entrepreneur


Beyoncé performs at Coachella, April 2018.
Beyonce performs at Coachella, April 2018.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella

If anyone could be called a "superstar" in the 19th century, it was Schumann. Hordes of fans would crowd to see her perform, and she would easily sell out concert halls. Beyoncé is an equivalent in terms of stardom — she can sell out stadiums and is the most nominated woman in Grammy history.

LISTEN — Distinguished Rebels: Superstar


Renée Fleming
Soprano Renee Fleming is looking forward to many more years performing opera.
Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

On top of touring, composing and teaching, Schumann was raising eight children with her husband, Robert. She even became the main breadwinner for the family when an injury prevented him from performing. Soprano Renee Fleming also showcases her supermom capacity, continuing to perform at the Metropolitan Opera during and immediately following her pregnancies.

LISTEN — Distinguished Rebels: Supermom

Musician of the highest order

Dame Mitsuko Uchida, pianist and conductor
Dame Mitsuko Uchida, pianist and conductor
Justin Pumfrey/Decca

Why was Schumann so highly regarded? Critics and fans alike noted not only her technique, but her zest and passion for what she was playing. Contemporary pianist Mitsuko Uchida receives similar praise, with her playing having the "mark of a master" well into her 70s.

LISTEN — Distinguished Rebels: Musician of the Highest Order

To learn more about Clara Schumann, listen to Decomposed, our podcast that breaks down the stories that have shaped classical music, hosted by Jade Simmons.